*It is week 8 of Masterchef (US). 13 constestants remain after Dan was sent home last week.

One of the interesting things about Masterchef is that we see varying levels of confidence and abilities. All of the contestants are amateurs. A few work as servers in restaurants but not as cooks. Each competition could be their last so they must focus on cooking best at all times. Pressure and other things can cause a promising candidate to go home. And if you loose confidence in your abilities as a cook, likely you will be sent home.

If confidence is a factor, a degree of arrogance usually follows. Of course it cannot be overwhelming arrogance that ends up being hubris. All three of the judges are extremely confident in their abilities and have arrogance about them. But not so much as to offend. The arrogance comes from years of practice and experience. What they look for in the cheftestants are both confidence and the ability to negotiate difficult tasks well. What separates a chef from a cook is how well they can create and execute a dish. And on this episodeof Masterchef, confidence is what you need when faced with a whole king salmon to filet and make a meal out of worthy the judges to consider.

Sad to say that a wonderful lesson in filleting a fish was squandered by the cheftestants. Gordon is an expert at this and his knife skills are extraordinary. Yet not one cheftestant bothered to watch. Of course some will say they never invited anyone down to watch. That misses the point. Nothing stopped them from going to down to see how he filleted a fish. If I had never done it before (like Ahran), I would have watched his technique. Gordon was done while everyone else was either still scaling their salmon or just starting to cut it up. Graham came down to cook Gordon’s salmon fillets, and Joe got to eat it. Joe got the best of the deal there.

Christine totally botched her filleting. The fillets looked like, as Joe put it, a shark had nibbled on them. Apparently she washed them in water and that resulted in them looking ragged. Elise had a health scare. She started feeling woozy. Gordon had water and a medic come over, and then a chair. It either was stress or fatigue and she ends up going outside to be more closely checked by the medics. She came back with thirty minutes to spare and did not have to cook. But she did and Christian thought well of that. Christian went a route most would dare not brave: Cajun blackened salmon. And it was worth the risk since his dish was the best of the round. Off he went to the pantry to make an important decision on whose food basket (Gordon, Graham’s, or Joe’s) would be cooked by everyone. He choose Joe because it looked more complex (and heavier as well!).

But of course there is a twist just before cooking and Christian gets to decide which person will only have thirty minutes to cook instead of sixty. He choose Courtney. That would not be my choice. I know she is a good cook and probably could ace it. Instead I would think in my head who are the other top ones and of that group, which are the weakest right now. I would have chosen between Willie and Ahran. Ahran because of her youth and lack of experience would have problems. And Willie is not so comfortable with upscale cooking. I would go for Willie. He choose Courtney because he does not like her much. Except, as I thought she would, she handled the challenge very well. So did Ahran and Elizabeth.

Ahran decided to make a savory tiramisu. That is nearly unheard of. The judges could not believe it and had doubts it would work out. Cutter opts to make pizza. Except there was no flour in the basket to make pizza. No problem in The Cutter Zone! Willie goes simple with tomato soup with egg and flatbread. Talk about uninspiring. This does not scream of Masterchef but a simple weeknight supper. Poor Elise though is having the most problems. Her first attempt at making pasta was a complete failure and she is demoralized. Gordon helps out and tries to get her not to give up.

Courtney had the disadvantage of only thirty minutes to cook. She manages to put up a decent dish that all the judges liked. Christian said she took the easy route, the judges do not agree. She is safe and not going home tonight. Courtney displays a level of confidence that borders on arrogance. The thing is, she can usually back it up. At one point early on she mentions she does not want to go back to working in a “gentleman’s club.” So she is hoping this will be a ticket out and be able to help her family. So she is clearly motivated to go as far as she can. Her mercenary aspects though tend to irritate the others. Christian hoped to trip her up and failed. He whined her dish was too simple and Joe retorted he misused his advantage. He aimed his arrow at someone with strong armor and it bounced off.

Christine redeemed herself with mushroom caramelle with brown butter and sage sauce. Leslie did fine with his artichoke ravioli but he needs to work on his presentation. Big Willie was a big disappointment. His dish was a tomato soup with egg and flatbread. He is given some really great Italian ingredients and this is all he came up with? Wow. Totally disappointing and it shows he did not have the confidence to make something more impressive. When it came to impressive,two dishes really shone out: Ahran and Elizabeth.

Ahran made a savory tiramisu. Gordon was very wary of this dish and asked if she had been drinking. No and she does not even know how to open the bottle! Gordon took a bite and from watching him on Kitchen Nightmares I guessed he was saying a prayer. Well it worked because the tiramisu was delicious. Never in a million years would he have thought of making such a dish but she had the confidence, despite her lack of experience in Italian cuisine, to pull it off. He was genuinely amazed by the skill she displayed for a person so young. Even if she does not win the competition, my guess is Gordon will get her into the business (as he has done with other young cooks). She clearly has talent.

And so does Elizabeth. She made a breakfast lasagna with egg on top with artichoke heart salad with bechamel sauce. Joe loved this dish and said it represented exactly the ingredients in the basket. He could not be more pleased and she went back to her station glowing in his admiration. Sadly neither Elise or Cutter can say the same. And now for trip down that lane to….The Cutter Zone.

The Cutter Zone
Cutter spent a entire hour to present the judges with a small artisanal pizza sitting on a sauce. Gordon cannot believe this is all he is presenting. He sarcastically asks Christian if gave Cutter less time than Courtney. It is not Masterchef material says Gordon. Joe was even more unimpressed than Gordon asking why he put the bread on sauce since it does not make the pizza crispy. Cutter wanted to add color to the plate. Joe spits it out and discards the plate. But at least Cutter thinks it was good. Time to leave this strange dimension and back to our normal reality.

Elise falls
Elise has had her moments but the stress got to her. And she has a problem picking herself up when making a mistake. Instead she gets despondent and looses confidence in her abilities. So her plate of ravioli, is as she puts it, sad. The sauce is not seasoned and Gordon asks if she has given up. She tries saying no but as Gordon points out, the dish says she has. So she is on the bottom with Cutter. Willie would have been there had there not been two dishes so poorly done as there was no other competition. They were faced with one cook who had given up and another who resides in different dimension where his food is never bad. While they would like to send Cutter home, Elise has totally given up. So they send her home and Gordon advises her not to give up and learn from mistakes. He has made plenty and did not give up.

This episode, perhaps more than others, highlights the differences in confidence and learning from mistakes. Christine botched the filleting in the Mystery Box and came back strong in the elimination round. Christian thought he would unnerve Courtney by giving her less time but her confidence in her abilities gave her a win. Willie, perhaps unfamiliar with the ingredients, decided to play it safe not having the confidence to try a pasta dish and ended up on the bottom. Ahran took a bold step in doing a savory tiramisu. We have seen some spectacular failures with tiramisu in the past. Yet her boldness and confidence bore out in a surprisingly delicious dish that made her a team captain in the next round. And Elizabeth showed her talents as well. She is most definitely a front runner now and perhaps the greatest challenge to Courtney and Christian.

As for Cutter and Elise, well one is in a delusion and the other collapses when they fail. Elise needs to build confidence in her abilities and when mistakes happen learn from them and not give up. Cutter is a whole different issue. This is a guy so into his own self that he is The Cutter Zone, a self imposed bubble that he developed so that criticism bounces off his chest like bullets off Superman. Remains to be seen how long he will last on the show. He has to count on someone else being far worse than him. And one day that person will be him.